European Commission takes on dirty shipping industry

Press release - 19 June, 2003
Greenpeace welcomed today's announcement by EU Commissioner for the Environment, Margot Wallstrom, that the European Commission will act to make sure the shipping industry cleans its ships of hazardous materials before exporting them to Asia for scrap. The move came as Greenpeace climbers succeeded, after nine hours, in transforming the EU building 'Berlaymont' into a giant billboard calling for mandatory legislation to "clean toxic ships now".

Greenpeace activists scale the EU building 'Berlaymont' and display a giant banner stating

"The European Commission's intention to stop this deadly trade will be a relief to hundreds of people who gamble their lives daily by scrapping ships that contain dangerous substances," said Mr, Salim, a shipbreaker from Bangladesh, speaking from Brussels.

At a press conference in Brussels this afternoon, EU Commissioner Wallstrom, acting on behalf of the Commission, accepted the bell of a contaminated ship that was scrapped recently at the Alang yard in India, given to her by Greenpeace and Mr. Salim, and declared that "After the Prestige and the rapid phase out of single hulled vessels as decided on by the EU, we cannot dump our hazardous waste in developing countries."

Wallstrom declared that Europe will act on the issue by taking several initiatives. She stressed that European legislation that covers this issue already exists but has not been implemented and said that she would write to ministers of all European countries to forcefully implement the European shipment on waste. She added that the proposed reform of the transhipment of waste under the Basel Convention, scheduled for approval on 30th June, is applicable to ships for scrap.

Mandatory regulations on shipbreaking are vital because the shipping sector is reluctant to assume the full liability for the decontamination of their ships before they are exported to shipbreaking countries. These countries, for example India, Bangladesh and China, are being polluted with known hazardous substances such as dioxins, asbestos and PCBs and people's health and safety is being put at risk. There have been eight accidents involving contaminated ships at the Alang yard in India alone over the past two and a half months, in which 20 people have died.

"I came to Europe with the hope that the shipping industry would take action to address the problem of shipbreaking. I became disillusioned fast - it is neither willing to spend the time nor the money. Commissioner Wallstrom's progressive stand today renews hope that vital international regulations will soon come into effect and stop this clandestine toxic trade," said Rampati Kumar from Greenpeace in India.

Wallstrom added that she will write to the International Maritime Organisation requesting that it also takes this issue seriously and closes loopholes in current international legislation. The next IMO meeting is scheduled to be held in London on 14-18 July.

Notes: Photos and beta footage is available from the Greenpeace press office in Brussels. Call + 32 22 740 216 or + 32 496 161 589.